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When it comes to traveling, there are three types of people. The first group consists of people that don’t enjoy traveling. I have only met a few of them as they’re a rare species. The second group enjoys traveling for the purpose of relaxation. These people usually travel once a year to get away from their usual surroundings and often enjoy the comforts of a resort. The third group simply loves to travel and always yearns for new travel experiences. Traveling solo pretty much only concerns the third group.
The biggest advantage of traveling on your own is that you get to do what you want when you want it. Nobody will slow you down, nobody will try to convince you to do something else. You get to stare at a painting in a museum for as long as you wish, or, you can sleep in as long as you need. Traveling solo means complete independence, and isn't that what you should get for all the money you spend on travel and accommodation? Yet, many people are afraid to travel alone. Maybe because they have never learned to be alone, or, they are worried about what people may think. Maybe they don't feel confident enough to handle being in a new place all alone.
In my childhood and youth, I didn’t travel a lot as we were always short on money. While my schoolmates spent entire summers in Spain, I would go to Denmark for two weeks. I can't blame my mother; she was trying her best to travel with us, but as I got older and started making my own money, I traveled more intensely – and I fell completely in love with it. All the new impressions helped me to learn more about myself and what I wanted out of life. In the beginning, it was easy, because I had friends and family to travel with, but when I hit my late 20s, everyone around me was in a relationship and wanted to travel with their significant other while I was single and simply didn't want to give up traveling. My first solo trip was a five-day trip to Barcelona. All my subsequent solo travels have been to major European cities.
I would definitely recommend cities as the best destinations for solo travel, as there is so much to do for which you don't really need another person. Spending a day at the beach alone can seem overwhelming, especially if you're a woman and have to deal with the unwanted male attention. In a city, however, you will just blend in with millions of other people on their way to work or home.
To make the experience more comfortable, I had created a profile on a travel website before going to Barcelona and gotten in touch with a Canadian female traveler who was going to be in the city at the same time. We met up the same day I arrived and walked around in the city for a bit and then went for dinner. She actually left the next day, but meeting her still helped me feel comfortable in the city as a solo traveler. It also made me realize that I wasn’t the only one to travel on my own and that I could be on the trip alone but always meet people whenever I wanted to.
As far as accommodation is concerned, I know that many people prefer to stay in dorms in hostels. It's an easy way to meet new people that you can share part of your travel experience with. Personally, I have always chosen to stay in a room by myself, partly because I value my privacy too much, and partly because I am a bit paranoid when it comes to my belongings. There are positive and negative things to say for any kind of accommodation, and you really need to make sure you find what is right for you.
Travel websites (especially Couchsurfing) are extremely helpful for meeting people who will be in the same place at the same time as you. When I traveled the French Riviera I met fellow travelers to go on day trips with, and when I was in Lisbon I found a great Street Art Tour. Events like that are great for meeting people who are interested in the same things as you. That way you are not completely alone during your trip and get to spend some of your time exploring new places with new people. Temporary travel buddies create the perfect mix of independence and social interaction. After all, just because you decide to travel alone doesn’t mean you don’t wish to spend any time with other people.
One big issue for people who travel solo is eating alone. I have to admit that even for me there is still something uncomfortable about going to a restaurant alone. In Barcelona, it was easier because close to where I was staying there was a vegetarian restaurant with a store, so I went to ask something about the food and just had lunch there. In general, I would recommend smaller, quiet places. If you see people inside studying, reading a book, or working on their laptops that's usually a good place to go, because nobody will take notice of you eating alone, as they are also alone. Throughout the day, it can be easier to just get a small snack and sit on a bench with a nice view. Try to overcome the fear that people will think you are lonely; on the contrary, many will admire you for doing something they would be too afraid to do themselves. The same is true for the entire experience of traveling alone. Don’t look at it as something you are doing because nobody is joining you. In fact, there is a level of selfishness involved in the idea of traveling solo. There is simply no need for compromise, no need to skip an activity because your travel partner doesn't enjoy it and wants to do something else instead.
Traveling solo means taking time out for yourself and confronting yourself with your insecurities about being alone. In the beginning, it might be difficult to resist the urge to turn to your smartphone to stay socially connected. Once you get over it and open yourself up to the possibilities of meeting people you would have otherwise never met you will never regret it and will want to do it on a regular basis.
Half Bulgarian Turk, half German living life as an expat in Greece.
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